Cricket: Stroke that needs mind and body

Stephen Brenkley finds out from Roy Fredericks the art of perfect hooking
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The Independent Online
AS DAVID LLOYD mentioned in doubting the wisdom of some players trying to execute the hook shot: "They came in and tried hooking the first ball, thinking they were Roy Fredericks."

There has been no more fearless or thrilling exponent of the stroke in recent history than Fredericks. He has produced perhaps the most famous single hook of all and also played one of the great Test innings laced with some vintage examples.

Thus, given the prompt of the England coach, Fredericks seemed a natural fount of wisdom to tap after three England batsmen perished to the hook in the First Test. Dominic Cork and Alan Mullally were perhaps being a trifle ambitious in attempting to hit themselves out of trouble in this fashion in the first innings but, in the second, Michael Atherton also went hooking, not for the first time, when he was caught at long leg off Glenn McGrath.

"It's not a shot you can practise and I never bothered with it in the nets but you must possess confidence to play it out in the middle," said Fredericks. "The pace of the bowler, the pace of the pitch and your ability to get on the back foot all count for something but you still then need to be absolutely in the right place with your mind and body to get it right."

Fredericks suspects that the shot is instinctive rather than pre-meditated and would never have considered dropping it from his armoury. There were many imperishable moments from the first World Cup final at Lord's in 1975 but none more so than that early in the day when, with the total only 12, Fredericks hooked a bouncer from Dennis Lillee high and handsome over square leg. As he did so he slipped and fell back on his wicket.

"It was pretty upsetting at the time but I knew what I had done wrong and never stopped playing it," he said. A few months later he demonstrated why. Against Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their rapid peak he went in at Perth and took the game to them, hooking gloriously over after over and scoring an unforgettable 169. "Not my best innings but my most entertaining," he said.

Fredericks, at present recovering from an operation for throat cancer in New York, was careful not to advise on the hook when he was a West Indian selector but he is clearly a proponent of the stroke. "I treated the bouncer as a wasted ball. I took the bowler on, I got out sometimes but it was still worth a lot to me."

Atherton, who is seeking to impose his will on the bowler by hooking, has also got out doing so several times. Equally, it has been profitable. It is part of his batting make-up, the part that exhibits his refusal to be cowed.

Dennis Amiss, who also faced Lillee and Thomson in their pomp when they became the most lethal employers of the bouncer in the game's history, eschewed the hook. "I was a front-foot player which made it difficult to play properly," he said, "but it's a stroke that demands a high level of assurance in the batsmen. If you pull it off it can have an equally debilitating effect on a bowler's state of mind. There is certainly no more thrilling shot in the game."

As Fredericks and Amiss both indicated, it is an instinctive shot born of reflex rather than a pre-meditated one stemming from long practice. The batsmen can look a mug getting out to it (witness Atherton in Brisbane) but a bowler being despatched by it suffers similarly.

Graham Dilley, an England fast bowler, who took his first Test wicket with a hooked bouncer, was wary of good practitioners of the shot. "You've got to get the bouncer exactly right to someone who's going to hook. Actually, the idea of putting two men deep on the leg side is sometimes to get them to do something else."

Atherton may come to doubt the wisdom of hooking but he will surely avoid the fate of Andrew Hilditch. Now an Australian selector, Hilditch was an opening batsman on the 1985 tour to England. He was out three times, caught on the boundary when hooking Ian Botham, himself an irrepressible hooker. Maybe Hilditch is now advising McGrath.

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